Residents evacuated as an Arkansas hazardous waste incineration facility burns and explodes
At 10:28 a.m. on January 2, 2005, the National Response Center notified EPA Region 6 that Teris LLC, located at 309 American Circle, El Dorado, Arkansas had numerous explosions and fires.
The facility reported that an employee attempted to extinguish a small fire that quickly burned out of control in one of the waste storage warehouses. The warehouse stored an estimated 4,500 drums of hazardous waste. Local responders closed nearby highways and streets and imposed an evacuation. Approximately 2,000 residents were evacuated.
EPA was requested to provide air monitoring support to the local and state responders.
Teris LLC is a hazardous waste incineration facility that operates rotary kilns for solid incineration and thermal oxidation for liquid incineration. Two warehouses are permitted for storage of containerized hazardous waste, as well as several agitated tanks for the storage of liquids awaiting incineration. The waste stored onsite are characterized as waste because there is no longer any economical use for them. Incineration has been determined to be the most cost effective and environmentally sound method of disposal for this waste. The wastes are hazardous because they meet one or more of the standard hazard categories (flammable, reactive, toxic or corrosive). Teris handles two chemicals in the incineration process that are regulated under the EPA Risk Management Plan Standard (40 C.F.R. 68), ethyl chloride and trimethylamine. Both flammable substances are present in mixtures (ethyl chloride in concentrations of 30% to 60% and trimethylamine in concentrations of 5% to 25%) and are liquids at ambient temperatures.
The products stored for incineration include a wide variety of petroleum based materials and other organic and inorganic chemicals in varying degrees of purity. The majority of the products are completely reacted, diluted, or mixed with dirt and debris. All products brought into the facility are profiled and analyzed by technical chemists to determine the proper disposition. The waste products are then subjected to extreme heat which breaks the chemicals down into its basic molecular structure, eliminating its hazardous components.
The fire continued to smolder and flare up in hotspots within the warehouse. Teris continued to monitor the fire but not actively engage. Teris did have firefighting equipment on standby. Teris monitored the temperature of 117 drums containing magnesium waste. The drums were adjacent to the fire, separated by a cement block wall. Teris indicated that the magnesium waste reacts to heat by causing a chemical reaction within the drum. Teris cooled these drums to prevent this reaction. Teris installed a liquid nitrogen system to provide emergency cooling if drums reach a critical temperature. Teris planned to relocate these drums to prevent continual exposure to heat.
EPA, ADEQ, Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), and Teris developed a strategy for collecting wipe samples at off site locations. Local citizens were concerned that harmful substances may be in yards and houses due to the fire. With the assistance of the City of El Dorado, 10 locations were identified for sampling. Two samples were collected per location (one indoor and one outside). Locations chosen were public facilities (i.e school, fire department, etc). Samples were collected by a Teris contractor. EPA provided oversight of the collection and packaging of the samples. Samples will be analyzed by Teris’ contract laboratory. Sample results are expected tomorrow afternoon. Data will be shared upon receipt. ADH will take the lead on determining if any potential health risks are associated with sample results.
EPA START contractors continue to perform continuous air monitoring. Parameters that are being monitored include: VOC, Ammonia, Chlorine, Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Ethylene Oxide, Phosphine, Carbon Monoxide, and Methane. Monitors remain in the same locations. For this monitoring period, data collected indicate that concentrations of constituents do not pose an acute risk to the community. Wind direction and speed remains generally south to north at 8-10 mph.
EPA initiated the collections of three air samples. Sample locations include: (1) the area immediately adjacent to the Teris Storage Building that continues to burn, (2) at the facility perimeter downwind of the Teris Storage Building, and (3) at the Union County Health Clinic, located approximately 1000 feet north of the Teris property boundary. Samples will be analyzed for the following parameters: herbicide and chlorinated pesticides, organophosphate pesticides, inorganic acids, metal, dioxins, semi-volatiles, and volatiles.